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Leona Carlyle-Kakar, a prominent member of the Ak-Chin Indian Community, has passed on to the spirit world. She was instrumental in securing one of the most substantial water settlements for Indian Country and spurring the economic development of her tribe.

Carlyle-Kakar died on Sunday, April 14, 2024. She was 88 years old. 

Carlyle-Kakar was born on the Ak-Chin Reservation on March 29, 1936 in Casa Grande, Ariz. After earning her GED in 1965, she served on the Ak-Chin tribal council for 40 years. During that time, she served as council secretary, council member, vice chairman, and the council’s first-ever female chairman. 

As well, she served as the Ak-Chin Farm Board Chairman from 1965 until she retired in 2016 at age 80.

Carlyle-Kakar and her brothers were instrumental in organizing the Ak-Chin community. While working at a grocery store in the 1950s, the siblings noticed that farmers who were leasing tribal land were earning revenue while the Ak-Chin community remained in poverty.

In 2016, she told the Maricopa Monitor that she and her brothers held a community meeting in the shade of a tree in a large field to pitch their idea of organizing and farming their land. 

“We got people together and told them they would have jobs and the community would be better off if we did this,” she said. “We knew we could make money, but the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) said it would never work.”

The tribal community was organized in 1961, and farming began soon after without assistance from the BIA. Her efforts helped the Ak-Chin Indian Community’s farming enterprise grow from 4,000 acres to more than 15,000, making it one of the largest farming communities in the U.S.

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Carlyle-Kakar was known to many as “Miss Water Rights” for her work doggedly engineering Indian Country’s first water rights settlement with the federal government. 

In the late 1960s, Carlyle-Kakar flew to Washington, D.C., for the first time to advocate for her tribe’s water rights. Nearly a decade and many trips later, she was successful in securing the Ak-Chin Indian Water Rights Settlement Act of 1984

“I guess farming is my baby,” Carlyle-Kakar told Site Selection Magazine in 2012. 

Carlyle-Kakar is also credited with taking part in the opening of the tribe’s Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino in 1994. 

In 2018, she was honored with a lifetime achievement award by Pinal 40, a non-profit in Pinal County, Ariz., supporting youth, education, and agriculture.

Ak-Chin Chairman Robert Miguel told the Maricopa Monitor today that Carlyle-Kakar's efforts have made the community what it is today. 

“As we see the structures that are up in our community, the homes and just the different resources that we live by — that’s Leona Kakar,” Miguel  said. “I consider her as the greatest leader the Ak-Chin Community’s ever had in spearheading our cause for water rights and what we’ve been able to do as a community. We’ve become who we are today because of her as far as a prosperous and great farming community and enterprise.”

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About The Author
Author: Elyse WildEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elyse Wild is senior editor for Native News Online and Tribal Business News.